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Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)   
Les Parents Terribles

Written by Jean Cocteau  
Directed by John Mossman 
at The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand (map)
thru April 13  |  tickets: $28-$32   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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Uneven and exhausting


Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)


The Artistic Home presents


Les Parents Terribles

Review by Patrick Dyer

Les Parents Terribles was a controversial play when it first premiered in 1939 in France, as it showed scenes of a mother and son romantically involved with each other. However, despite censorship issues, Jean Cocteau’s “familial comedy” was revived multiple times internationally and was even adapted to a 1948 film. It’s a challenging piece, no doubt, with heavy overtones and jabs at class structure in society; treating it seriously would be even more of a challenge. Is The Artistic Home’s latest production up to that challenge?

Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)
Les Parents Terribles takes place in 1930s Paris where a mother, Yvonne (Kathy Scambiatterra), her sister, Leonie (Miranda Zola), and her husband, George (Frank Nall) wait for their son Michael (Julian Hester) to return home bringing news about his girlfriend Madeleine (Allie Long). However, there’s a bit of a problem: Yvonne romantically loves Michael, Michael loves both his mother and girlfriend, George has a secret relationship with Madeleine built on lies, and Leonie has a secret infatuation with George. A love pentagon if there ever was one. Will this incredibly dysfunctional family learn to love each other in a healthy way or will the truths about one another break them apart?

Cocteau’s play is very much a farce of the 1930s: broad characters, subplots upon subplots, lots of false exiting and entering, and a vaudevillian sense of humor. He piles on the subplots with a blackly comic touch, making Les Parents Terribles both odd and effective. However, director John Mossman has assembled an uneven production. His staging is broad and goofy but often too choreographed. Comedy does require a grander sense of presentation in theater, but here the cast’s timing and gestures are too calculated to feel natural. This gives the production a rather static feel not allowing for the cast to fully engage with each other since they’re more concerned with hitting their marks and constantly anticipating a laugh. That’s not to say the cast on the whole is poor, but, like the production, the performances are uneven.

Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)

Scambiatterra as Yvonne and Hester as Michael have the biggest challenge in the whole play: making their mother-son romance believable. Unfortunately, both are so concerned with being comical that they rarely share a connection with each other. This makes their controversial relationship fall flat, which in turn makes their comic moments fall flat too. Nall as George and Zola as Leonie are much more effective together as they both seem equally committed to their roles and not just wanting to make the audience laugh. As Madeleine, Long struggles to match Hester’s over-the-top energy, but fairs better with Nall since there’s simply more dedication to the acting. However, even after three acts, the entire cast feels worn out. Mossman seems to have directed this cast to constantly give highly energized performances which, after a while, becomes tiring for both the actors and the audience. While there are some genuinely funny moments (particularly between Nall and Zola towards the end), I was still squirming in my seat, wanting the cast to stop shouting almost every line.

Comedy is certainly harder than drama, but there has to be some level of seriousness when tackling it. This goes double for plays with controversial aspects like incest. Les Parents Terribles’s heavier themes and subject matters help elevate the comedy, but unfortunately for this talented ensemble, this production sadly misses the mark on that front.


Rating: ★★



Let Parents Terribles continues through April 13th at The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand (map), with performances Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $28-$32, and are available by phone (312-243-3963) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes two intermissions)

Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)

Photos by Anthony Aicardi 




Kathy Scambiatterra (Yvonne), Frank Nall (George), Miranda Zola (Leonie), Julian Hester (Michael), Allie Long (Madeleine)

behind the scenes

John Mossman (director), Skye Shrum (assistant director), Roxie Kooi (stage manager), Corinne Bass (set design), Hanna Wisner (costume design), Garvin Jellison (lighting design), Adam Smith (sound design), Anthony Aicardi (photos)

Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)
Review: Les Parents Terribles (The Artistic Home)


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